The artistry of Mike Hosking

by Diana Wichtel / 19 December, 2013
When Mike Hosking tweets that he leads the perfect life, is he being ironic? Even his wife, Kate Hawkesby, doesn’t seem to know.
Mike Hosking. Photo/David White

Note: This article was originally published in the Listener on September 26, 2013. Mike Hosking was recently named as a new host of TV ONE's Seven Sharp.

It was meant to be a leisurely stroll through the mind of Mike Hosking, preferably somewhere relaxed, like his place, please. It was my third shot at figuring out what makes him tick. You live in hope.

But it seems he doesn’t do interviews at home, with the exception of women’s magazine epics like “Our Perfect Love” and its companion piece, “We Love Our Marriage”. So it’s his office, Newstalk ZB. He doesn’t do leisurely, either. “Anyway, fire away,” he urges. “What are we talking about?”

I’d asked to sit in on his breakfast show, but no. “‘Nerve-racking’ is the wrong word,” he explains. “It’s the whole concentration thing. Gotta concentrate.” Sir Paul Holmes and even Leighton Smith let me in. “Yeah, but they’re egotists who like to be watched at work,” he crows. “I’m not like that at all.”

Mike Hosking, shrinking violet. We’ve been here. We spoke in 2005, not long after he was dumped from Breakfast. His efforts to maintain a low profile around town were rather self-sabotaged by his entourage of PR minder and hair and make-up person.

In 2008, the surreal career arc of the Kiwi broadcaster found us in Melbourne. He was hosting a New Zealand version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire. “If there was no audience and therefore no celebrity,” he declared, “I’d be just as happy.”

He’s still singing that song. “I’d be perfectly happy if I could broadcast to nobody.” It’s a classic Hosking pronouncement, somewhere between a Zen koan and complete gibberish. No time to dwell on such riddles. With Hosking, it’s like conversing in Morse code. On his early departure from school: “16. Left. Gone.” Then there’s the rhythm section: a clap or tap-tap-taps for emphasis. “Bang!” he’ll say. “Ding-ding-ding.” On getting his first radio job as a copywriter: “Sat a test.” Clap! “Bang! Just like that!”

He’s a one-man band. Many have come and gone: Paul Henry. Mark Sainsbury. Paul Holmes. Outwit, outlast, outplay? “I certainly haven’t outwitted anybody.” Outlast, perhaps. “Last year was my 30th year, so that’s not bad, eh?” The notion that he was the Jack Tame of his times has him adding a dismissive raspberry to his odd, orchestral repertoire. “I think Jack’s a lot cleverer than I ever was.”

Still, he quickly graduated from teen copywriter to broadcasting on Wellington’s Radio Windy. “They fired people a lot. So I got stuck on air, did two mid-dawns and someone else got fired and then I did nights.”

Living the dream: Mike Hosking, deliriously happy breakfast radio host. Photos/David White

Later there was Radio New Zealand, then television. He never did get to host Close Up. “Well, I did it once for 14 days. That was fantastic … It was sort of ironic because I’d worked for them, got booted out, got brought back.” No hard feelings? “I wasn’t even remotely bothered by it. At all.” He loves radio. And he hasn’t done badly for a boy with no qualifications. “Well, I’m not a journalist. I’ve never claimed to be. In fact I don’t have a skill to my name, really,” he says happily. “But I got UE accredited, so that counts.”

So now I am so famous and important
Someone has parodied my twitter account
Life is perfect

– from the Twitter musings of Mike.

His evolving hair and wardrobe, from young fogey to eternal hipster, have kept commentators guessing over the years. Is he semaphoring fashion-forward brio or a cry for help?

Now Hosking has a parallel existence on Twitter. His communiqués are part poet manqué, part weapons-grade smugness. “Hot date with the love of my life tonight/ Life is perfect,” he tweets. There’s the much-mocked, “Dinner at St heliers bay bistro/Arrived a bit after 6/You can’t move for people/Brilliant food/Lovely service/So much for the recession.”

Personal favourite: “Just found a product that makes the car wheels cleaner than I have ever seen them/And I had clean wheels to start with!”

Parody account @MikePerfectHosk effortlessly mimics his style: “The queue for crepes at the French market is enormous. What recession?”

So what’s it like to become a social media meme? “Well, have I?” You have. “Shit, I don’t know whether to take that stuff seriously or not.” He seems genuinely perplexed. “Well, that’s flattering,” he decides. “When I said that for the first time it wasn’t serious but it was a statement of fact: life’s perfect. It took on a life of its own … It’s quite cute.”

Mike Hosking with wife Kate Hawkesby. Photo/Norrie Montgomery/NZH

His wife, Kate Hawkesby, once tweeted that he was being ironic. “Oh, that comes down to the fact she doesn’t know whether I’m being ironic or serious half the time anyway so I wouldn’t read too much into that.” I’m beginning to know how she feels.

Either way, he tweets on – should he have a red or a Peroni? – showing a clean set of wheels to mockers. All utterly sincere, apparently. “It was said in a certain way to start and it’s said in exactly the same way now. Nothing’s changed. The artist remains consistent throughout the process.”

The artist remains consistent. Sort of. He fought battles over privacy when his then baby twin girls from his first marriage were papped, yet he’s happy to grace women’s magazines when it suits. He remains furious at intrusions. There was a story this year in the New Zealand Herald about the sale of his family home. “The poor bloke who’s the agent … got trapped. One of the sad things about that particular story was that a number of people thought that we’d initiated the publicity.” There have been other media outrages. “They came into our property shortly after we got married … and started taking photos inside the house. That’s why I don’t have the greatest amount of respect for how they operate.”

It’s possible to keep your private life private – just don’t do personal stories in women’s magazines. “Well, that’s true, but what I’ve discovered over time is that at times it pays just to control things yourself a bit. I wouldn’t argue that I’ve necessarily done it as well as I should have all the time but it’s part and parcel of this whole business.”

Riding the media tiger. People think they can control it. Hosking’s relationship with SkyCity generated a small fracas. “Well, did it?” It did. “It was a non-event that I did a bit of work for Sky. I do a bit of work for a lot of people. They saw a mile more in it than there ever was.” Surely there could be conflict of interest if you’re promoting an outfit you might need to report on. “Not at all! My philosophy on that stuff is very clear. If you happen to be working for somebody on an ongoing, consistent basis and they happen to be in the news, you declare a conflict of interest.” He wasn’t, so he didn’t, he says.

“I’d done some emcee jobs for them – I think it was round the time of the World Cup – and the initial convention centre story came up, that they were going to do it. I wrote an editorial on that and I thought, given I’d done a job that week, maybe I should say something. The editorial said I had a small contractual arrangement, whatever. Ding-ding-ding. That was the end of that.” You were never paid or rewarded to tweet nice things? “Absolutely not. That’s all crap.”

There was the time he emceed at John Key’s state of the nation speech. The gig was for a charitable organisation. “They get different speakers along, one of whom happened to be Key. So there was no association with the National Party at all.” Well, Hosking gave it a ringing endorsement. “Yeah, absolutely. Why not? I’m allowed to. I didn’t actually say they should be re-elected, I don’t think.” He was reported in the Herald as saying, “We have bright prospects for the future, so long as you keep them in Government.”

Never mind. The point is he has to interview the Prime Minister. “Yeah, but what I say is, judge me on how I interview.” On a good day he can be one the tougher interviewers we have, not that we have many. And he’s keen to point out he criticises the Government. “The whole GCSB thing is a fiasco and it’s being run by the Government. The meat on the wharf in China is a fiasco – it’s a government department. There’s plenty of stuff they’ve been caught short on,” he says. “It’s one of the ironies that they are in many respects micromanagers. For free marketeers and free-choice people they spend a lot of time changing things and telling you how to do [things] and what’s not right.”

But he agrees perception does matter. “If you’re sitting there going, ‘Jeez, that guy is so biased it’s unbelievable’, you’re allowed to think that if you want and there will be people who do. I used to say, for example, that [Helen] Clark was a very good political operator and I admired her. Does that make me a Labour supporter?”

Heaven knows, but it’s a fine line. “Yeah, it’s a fine line but that doesn’t mean you don’t walk down it, otherwise what’s the purpose of me being here?” It’s why he loves commercial radio. “If I was, say, on Morning Report I’d be in all sorts of bother. For obvious reasons. But that’s because there are just too many rules around that.”

Hosking’s endorsement appears online helping to flog a brand of the food supplement resveratrol. Again, not bothered. “The resveratrol thing – I take it. And so I haven’t put my name to it,” he says. Really? “I take an immune booster and I take krill – none of that gets advertised. I’m right into that sort of thing – health and fitness. I’m full of pills. I’m a walking lab.”

It all fits with his mantra: “I’m allowed to say what I want, I’m allowed to think what I want, I’m allowed to express my opinion. Which is, apart from anything, fundamentally why I’m employed.”

One-man band, walking lab. His sole vice is a glass of wine. “It’s one of my great joys and passions of life, always has been.” Does he let his much-commented-upon hair down? “I wouldn’t go that far, myself. But my wife might suggest that periodically on a Friday night there might have been one too many drinks. I will, for the official records, say no.”

Hosking and Hawkesby have five children between them. He gets up at 3am. “They’re bordering on going to bed later than I am now, or the oldest one is. There’s going to have to be some sort of regimental vigil kept about being out and coming in and all that sort of stuff but that’s Katie’s department. She’s all over that like a rash.”

Hawkesby, apart from the odd bit of television and a column for Woman’s Day, is at home. Does she miss the roar of the crowd? “No, and that’s where we are very similar people. I don’t seek the roar of the crowd; she doesn’t either. It just happens to be in the work we’ve done the roar of the crowd comes with it.”

Later, I get a Twitter message from Hawkesby, all over this like a rash: “I liked your question about the roar of the crowd. I hope M told u the roar of the crowd at home was louder. And more satisfying:)” Life, clearly, is perfect.

Hosking at 48. “I won’t be around if my kids are ever being interviewed,” he muses, uncharacteristically downbeat. Surely he will, what with all that resveratrol. “Yeah, I hope it doesn’t let me down.” In his office is a photo taken with Paul Holmes. “Yeah, that was a sort of ‘farewell Paul, hello Michael’ event.” Hosking took over the breakfast show when Holmes moved to Saturday morning. “We had a lovely night so it’s a nice photo.” They got on? “We didn’t know each other that well. He was here when I wasn’t, so … But he lived in Rem[uera], so we would bowl into each other at the dairy or at the video shop periodically. We got on really well.” Holmes was an open book. “Yes, he was, Paul. He was indeed.”

Hosking is more a sealed document. But this time he seems less defensive, more fun. A bit more comfortable with the perils and paradoxes of being Mike Hosking. “Now I’m probably more mature and probably more at peace with it. Probably.” He avoids introspection. “I don’t second-guess anything. It is what it is, I do what I do. You don’t question it,” he says. “By and large all you can do is be yourself. And I reckon by and large you’ll get away with it.”

Off to broadcast from the America’s Cup, Hosking is himself; so much so that his pathological positivity sees him singled out from a tough field on Radio New Zealand’s Mediawatch for chest-thumping beyond the call of duty: “Short of installing an outboard and getting Houdini to drive the thing, they’re done!” he cried, of Oracle.

That was before Team New Zealand started losing. We speak again when he gets back, the Cup still not won. On Planet Mike, even this is a wildly glass-half-full scenario. “If they happen to come back any further,” he says of Oracle, “you’ve suddenly got the excitement of a whole new contest and the genuine possibility of us not winning the thing. We’d go nuts!” I think some of us already have.

But there’s no deflecting him. As he says, he is what he is. He does what he does. And he’s happy to go on doing it on the breakfast show. Happy? He’s delirious. “I love doing this. I’m living the dream.” Clap! “Love my life. Love it all. You’ve never met a happier person.” Raving on like this, isn’t he in danger of tempting the gods? “No,” he says. “You couldn’t argue I’ve not been consistent in my general happiness and view of life.”

This is getting a bit scary, Mike. “It hasn’t let me down yet. And so I’m running with it. I’ve got it made!” He really can’t help himself. Say what you like, the artist is consistent.

MIKE HOSKING BREAKFAST, Newstalk ZB, weekdays 6.00am.

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